I had a friend—at least I think he’s a friend—tell me I’m wasting my time hunting whitetails when I could focus on mule deer. He said this because, I live in a mule deer mecca, and for six years, have hunted only whitetails along the Arkansas River bottom near my Colorado home. (It’s turned into the ultimate whitetail property.)
I shrugged, and he laughed. Then, I headed straight for the small-acre whitetail property I’ve been grooming and managing for six years. On the way there, thoughts of the great bucks I’d harvested over the past three years jumped to the forefront of my brain. Still, mostly, my thoughts turned to those proof-of-life trail camera images I’d saved in my HuntStand Trail Cams tab, and I imagined my buddy having to eat crow when I slammed a SEVR-tipped Easton through a November buck.
The property wasn’t always this excellent, though. Far from it. It took a ton of time and work. The good news is that you can do the same and don’t need lush food plots or heavy-duty equipment to make it happen.
Add Some Water
The best addition to my whitetail dirt was water. My property runs along the Arkansas River, and even a small canal cuts through it. However, the addition of a tiny pond near a known doe bedding area has been money in the bank.
Why? Like real estate, water placement is about location. When I dug an oval-shaped pond with my shovel, lined it with a Home Depot pond liner tarp, and hauled 50 gallons of water via a four-wheeler and five-gallon buckets; I started getting doe photos four hours later.
The oval shape collects more rainwater than a dug-in plastic kiddy pool or stock tank, and the pond-liner tarp cost me $43 bucks on Amazon. It has held up for three seasons. When the water runs low, I fill it, but this work has proved well worth it. The girls drink from it regularly, and during the rut, bucks scent-checking this doe area can grab a quick drink. Two years back, I shot a beautiful 130-inch 8-point while he slaked his thirst at my artificial refreshment stand.
A well-placed pond can define buck movement even if you have water on your property. Deer prefer to drink from a still water source over one that is running. I think the motionless water allows them to hear better while they drink.
How to Set Up a Small Property for Deer Hunting
Create Travel Corridors
Next is creating travel corridors to define deer travel and put deer where you want them. Deer will take the path of least resistance, and when you have straight-cut trails that connect bucks to doe bedding areas, and stand sites placed along the corridors, you’re in the chips.
I know I raved about not using heavy equipment, and for years, I used my Honda push mower and Stihl grass trimmer to create travel corridors. The combo worked great, but recently I traded a farmer friend 12 hours of manual labor for the use of his John Deere tractor and mower implement. What took me two days took me one hour, and I was able to make my travel corridors broader and cleaner.
When putting in travel corridors, as with all these no-food-plot tips, the goal is defining deer movement. Run your corridors between known doe bedding in a straight line so bucks can cruise from spot to spot without making big loops and circles.
Make Hinge Cuts
Along my travel corridors, I’ve created several hinge cuts. A hinge cut is accomplished using a chainsaw, cutting a tree at a 45-degree angle, and only cutting through it enough to get it to tip over. This leaves the main trunk attached to the base, which does two things.
First, it provides deer with eye-level browse, and when you hinge cut three or four trees in an area, it creates doe bedding areas. The tree remains alive because the trunk isn’t severed, and again, hinge cutting in specific locales allows you to place family groups of does where you want them and then connect those bedding areas with mowed travel paths.
How to Plant a Small Food Plot with Hand Tools
Deploy Rubbing Posts
At every one of my stand sites, I add a rubbing post. I recommend cedar, but not a square or circular post picked up at a hardware store. Instead, grab that chainsaw and cut an eight-foot live cedar. Check state regulations before cutting cedars or other trees on public land. I cut all my cedars on private land and swap the landowner out some labor for six or seven posts. Pine posts and other aromatic woods also work well.
Regarding placement, I position my rubbing post 20-25 yards from my stand and set them in a way that gives me a quartering-away shot at deer.
Dig a hole 4 feet deep and roughly twice as wide as the post’s diameter. Next, place the post, and little by little, add dirt. Use the backend of your shovel to tamp the dirt in. Slowly, using only dirt and your shovel, the post will set in the ground. There is no need to add Quikrete. Our goal is to keep costs down and still provide attraction to deer.
Once the post is set, scar it with a handheld saw like HME’s Folding Saw Combo Pack. This releases the aroma. I also like to add Paul Pollick Preorbital Gland Lure, which has forehead and tear duct scent. Rubbing posts are all about the smell. A little of this mixture dabbed on the posts helps create immediate activity. However, the scent is not a must. Most often, a whitetail buck can’t resist a perfectly placed post.
Before calling it a day, cut a licking branch. I like to do a little scouting and see what types of overhanging branches deer are using in my area, and then I use my saw to cut a sizeable branch that matches the species of tree deer are favoring. Use some heavy-duty screws and attach your licking branch to the top of the post. The key is ensuring the limb is long enough to hang out and away from the post and that deer can reach it with their antlers and nose.
Under the branch, use a rake and create a mock scrape. If in summer, I don’t like to add any scent, but I will go to a lawn and garden store, buy some topsoil, and mix it with my mock scrape. Deer love the smell of fresh dirt, and I have had does and bucks start visiting mock scrapes as early as July.
Adding rubbing posts with overhanging branches at every stand site ups the likelihood that a passer-by buck will stop and work the scrape, rub the post, or in many cases, both. These locations make great camera sites. Over the years, I have shot several of my hit list bucks while they rubbed a cedar post.
Build Buck Beds
The curmudgeon amongst us may call this step overboard, but I disagree. Bucks love to bed on elevation. If you spy a location with good cover on a rise in the terrain, you can create a buck bed.
Start by cutting the buck an entrance route and an escape route. Bucks need to be able to flee from cover if disturbed. After cutting the entrance and exit, I level out the ground and add a bedding log. Use a chainsaw and safely cut a sizeable piece of wood that the buck can rest against. Almost every buck bed I have created has white belly hair at the end of the season.
Making a Plan for Fall Deer Seasons
Bring It Home
Remember, you can do many things to make your whitetail dirt excellent without adding food. Plus, you don’t have to do it all at once. Make minor improvements here and there. It won’t be long, and you’ll be reaping the benefits. This season, barring a summer disaster, I should have four bucks over 150 inches using my 100-acre parcel of Colorado whitetail ground.